The Sermon on the Mount—“Keep on Asking”
AFTER counseling his hearers to avoid adverse judging of their fellowman, Jesus said: “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you.”—Matt. 7:7.a
With these words, the Son of God urged his disciples to persevere in prayer. There was a pressing need for this. The Sermon on the Mount had shown clearly that righteousness in God’s eyes was not simply a matter of performing religious and charitable deeds. (Matt. 5:20; 6:1) To be meaningful, acts of worship must spring from proper heart motivations, including forgiveness, chasteness, truthfulness and love. (Matt. 5:22, 27, 28, 33-37, 43-48) Since these qualities run counter to sinful human nature, the disciples would have to petition God regularly for assistance in meeting his requirements for true worship.
Hence, they were to “keep on asking” for needed strength and wisdom to live a godly life. (2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Pet. 1:3) They should “keep on seeking” this as they would hid treasure. (Compare Matthew 13:44.) They must “keep on knocking” to secure full admittance into the blessings that God has in store for those who meet his approval.—Note Luke 13:24, 25.
Persons who earnestly pray for such blessings and work in harmony with their prayers can draw encouragement from Jesus’ further words: “Everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:8) This does not mean that people can pray for anything that they want and receive an answer. Proper prayer must always be in harmony with God’s will. (1 John 5:14) However, disciples of Jesus could be confident that God would answer their prayers for help in carrying on true worship.
In this regard, the Son of God gave an illustration: “Indeed, who is the man among you whom his son asks for bread—he will not hand him a stone, will he? Or, perhaps, he will ask for a fish—he will not hand him a serpent, will he?”—Matt. 7:9, 10.
In Palestine, during the first century C.E., bread was baked in the form of flat cakes that resembled certain stones. Some small serpents looked like the fish that often were eaten with bread. (See John 6:9.) If a youth asked his father for bread, the parent would not deceive and vex his offspring by giving him a stone. If the son asked for a fish to eat with bread, his father would not hand him a serpent. The natural affection between father and son would preclude the father’s doing so.
“Therefore,” continued Jesus, “if you, although being wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more so will your Father who is in the heavens give good things to those asking him?”—Matt. 7:11.
Fathers on earth, though “being wicked” due to inherited sin, do not give to their children harmful items that only look like the things requested. Instead, human parents endeavor to provide “good gifts” for their offspring. “How much more so” will God, whose love is perfect, answer the prayers of his devoted worshipers. (1 John 4:8) He will grant his servants “good things,” especially holy spirit, that can strengthen them to continue rendering sacred service that meets God’s requirements. (Compare Luke 11:13.) The Most High will do this, however, only for persons who persist in “asking him.”
Next, Jesus added a rule of conduct that has achieved considerable fame: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them; this, in fact, is what the Law and the Prophets mean.”—Matt. 7:12.
God displays a fatherly disposition toward his servants by answering their prayers. “Therefore,” they, in turn, must treat fellow humans properly. Only in this way can they prove themselves to be sons of God, that is, persons who imitate his benevolent disposition and whose prayers the heavenly Father readily answers.—Compare Matthew 5:44-48; 1 Peter 3:7.
Concerning this “golden rule,” the book A Pattern for Life states:
“Parallels to the Rule can be found in both Jewish and Gentile sources, as though to prove that God had not left men without knowledge of the highest morality before the coming of Christ. In Tob[it, a book of the Apocrypha] 4:15 we read: ‘What thou hatest do to no man.’ Hillel [a rabbi who lived about the time of Jesus] said: ‘What is hateful to thee do not to anyone else.’ The Stoics had a maxim: ‘Do not to another what you do not wish to happen to yourself.’ In Confucius we find: ‘Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.’”
These sayings, however, are all negative, encouraging people not to mete out treatment that they would not want to receive back.
Persons who would heed the Son of God, however, were to go beyond mere avoidance of mistreating others. They must take the initiative to do good things to their fellowman, yes, ‘all things that they want men to do to them.’ Comparing this counsel with the similar statements of a negative type in non-Biblical writings, A. B. Bruce observes in The Expositors Greek Testament:
“The negative confines us to the region of justice; the positive takes us into the region of generosity or grace, and so embraces both law and prophets. We wish much more than we can claim—to be helped in need, encouraged in struggles, defended when misrepresented, and befriended when our back is at the wall. Christ would have us do all that in a magnanimous, benignant way; to be not merely [righteous] but [good].”—See Romans 5:7.
“The Law and the Prophets” designate vital inspired Hebrew Scriptures. When persons treat others in the way that they would have others treat them, they are acting in harmony with the real spirit behind God’s law. “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing,” writes the apostle Paul, “except to love one another; for he that loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. For the law code, ‘You must not commit adultery, You must not murder, You must not steal, You must not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this word, namely, ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore love is the law’s fulfillment.”—Rom. 13:8-10; compare Matthew 22:37-40.
a Jesus’ words at Matthew 7:7-11 appear also at Luke 11:9-13 in a setting that took place in Judea about a year and a half after the Sermon on the Mount. Evidently Jesus saw fit to repeat the counsel.